Posted on January 04 2015 by Mases Hagopian
Just as a disclaimer, I will be answering this question in regards to design choices I feel were discarded when the Zelda series moved into 3D space. I’m not here to lament the death of 2D sprite gaming for the franchise, or suggest in any way that 3D Zeldas are an inferior experience. With that said, hit the jump for my views on what aspects of the franchise I feel were lost, broken up into sections.
An Omniscient View of the World
In the 2D Zeldas (aside from side-scrolling sections of certain titles, which I will return to later) the player has a clear bird’s eye view of a given screen. As such, they have the advantage of preparing themselves for most obstacles and taking the necessary precautions. The environment, and therefore exploration, is made completely open. There’s less ambiguity of what you can and cannot interact with in the world because of this visibility. Within three dimensional space, however, the world and how you explore it not only becomes more complex, it’s more focused and limited.
Take the first venture into 3D, Ocarina of Time, and most of the subsequent console titles which followed in its style. The player has a third person perspective of the world through an over-the-shoulder camera angle above Link’s head, and for the most part can only see what’s beyond that front view of vision. You can further constrain that viewpoint by toggling the camera to first person whenever you wish to take a better look at something in the environment. Added to the fact that the 3D Zeldas have components of a vertical nature, with objects existing on different levels, there’s a lot more complexity to traversing the world than simply transitioning from one screen to another. How the environment is affected by the player in a 3D plane is harder to gauge based on that variability. Keese, with their range of movement and flight patterns, could come flying at you from above your head or from the side. Compare this to the 2D plane of The Legend of Zelda, where the trajectory and movement of Link/enemies/projectiles is usually simplified to a straight point A to B interaction.
All of this is not to say that the 3D Zeldas are more difficult than the 2D Zeldas; on the contrary, as the creators designed these overworlds with the advantages/disadvantages of the player’s perspective in mind. For instance, the 2D games would bombard you with hordes of enemies on screen (a la Gibdos). It’s just that both variants of the Zelda experience have different ideas for what they want to emphasize about the world to the player. Of course, there are some exceptions to the general 2D Zelda framework, such as with the side-scrolling/platforming segments of the Four Swords titles, like Link’s Awakening, the wall merging mechanic in A Link Between Worlds, and the unique design of the The Adventure of Link. In the latter, the game was broken up into two sections: wandering the overworld with an overhead perspective, and the side-scrolling combat. The Adventure of Link‘s format has only been revisited again in the series by the aforementioned elements of the Four Swords games. With the advent of 3D, Zelda games haven’t tried that side-scrolling gameplay since.
A Streamlined World
Alluding to what was said before, because environmental interaction in a 2D space was so clear cut to the player, progression was quick and fluid. The overall experience felt streamlined. Unlike in the 3D Zeldas released thus far, where Link’s momentum is cut short whenever the player needs to Z-target and pull their attention to something, the Link in say A Link to the Past could be moved while a whole screen of information gives the player the necessary details. Like in The Adventure of Link, the gameplay of Ocarina, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword have all been segmented into two realities: the open world exploration portion and then the combat/investigation portion. Unlike Youtuber Egoraptor (his views expressed in a video), I don’t find this change in emphasis to be inherently bad for the franchise. I’m just noting that the relationship between exploration and combat became more disconnected due to the 3rd dimension, and in its place brought new and different complexity to the table.
This ties in with the previous point, which was about a game’s ability to efficiently move the player through the adventure. Whether you think that increasing involvement of narrative in Zelda is beneficial or detrimental to the series is up to interpretation, though I do perceive a drop in proper pacing. While 2D iterations having a simple storyline is more to do with hardware limitations than a purposeful design choice, it’s hard to dispute that storytelling has become a lot more intricate and meaningful to the overall experience for 3D titles. I feel that Skyward Sword is the embodiment of that idea, for while there’s a lot to experience gameplay wise, there were a lot cutscenes, with the combined run time of around 2 hours. A Link Between Worlds, the most recent 2D title, had a fraction of that amount, and mainly towards the end of the game, where pacing was not compromised. While it’s true that those two hours were interspersed in a game that averaged around 60+ hours, in my view those cutscenes weren’t spaced throughout the journey well, often breaking pace. While it was easy to appreciate the improved characterization and presentation, it was made less compelling when the game pushed me towards those story elements constantly.
Understandably the way Zelda was played had to change with the addition of the Z-axis, though these were some omissions that I think need to be addressed for the franchise’s future.
After hearing me ramble, what’s your view on the topic? Do you disagree with my views on the changes to the franchise? Chime in below!